FORT BLISS, Texas (March 12, 2018) -- Technology continues to bridge divides like never before. We talk to relatives halfway across the world as if they were only a few steps away. Yet when it comes to communicating with our Joint and coalition partners, sharing sensitive information isn't as easy.

To address that, this spring, the Army and its coalition and Joint partners are coming together to approach these matters at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 18.1 (JWA 18.1). The objective is straightforward: improving communications and protecting the Joint forces, while using combined fire power to quickly and effectively engage the enemy across all domains.

"Securely communicating sensitive information could help U.S. forces and our coalition partners to better combine and protect our forces, while using our combined fire power to quickly and effectively engage the enemy across all domains," said David Ribail, chief, JWA Division, Capability Package Directorate (CPD).

The JWA 18.1 also brings new challenges due to its location. Up until last year, all event related activities and exercises for the JWA and related Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) were planned and executed at Fort Bliss. This time, some planning and coordination will be done at Fort Bliss, but the brunt of activities, from integrating vehicles to integrating the networks needed for the exercise, will occur overseas. JWA 18.1 will take place in its entirety at Grafenwoehr Training Area and Hohenfels Training Area in Germany.

As part of the JWA 18.1, Capability Package Directorate, part of the System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate, under the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), alongside the Joint Modernization Command (JMC) and several other partners will assess solutions to the Army Warfighting Challenges.

The challenges are being met with concepts and capabilities (C&Cs), key areas the Army has deemed as either needing new capabilities or needing a better way of employing and using what the Army has today. Experienced Soldiers involved in JWA will assess the C&Cs to determine their effectiveness in real world missions.

"JWA 18.1 opens the door for joint opportunities," said Ribail. "First, the exercise occurs in Germany where the U.S. is already involved in multinational training exercises. Secondly, it allows the Army to leverage joint exercises, like the Air Force-sponsored Blue Flag 18, for getting at combined Joint operations."

The JWA mission involves the coordination and cooperation between high commands from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and multinational partners from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, and France.

The JWAs are Soldier-led assessments that evolved from the NIEs conducted at Fort Bliss, Texas since 2011. Findings from each event help progress the Army's network hardware and mission command applications, while obtaining valuable operational feedback from units.

Unit support for JWA 18.1 will come from the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Integration of the systems is performed by CPD, which must synchronize the new C&Cs and existing systems with the tactical and multinational networks these units will assess.

CPD will incorporate and validate almost 30 C&Cs into the operational network. CPD will also integrate systems on vehicles, including capabilities for counter unmanned aircraft systems, radars, navigation, and coalition interoperability.

In addition, CPD is managing the complexity of supporting two separate exercises, Blue Flag 18 and Combined Resolve X, both occurring simultaneously in Germany. Together, JMC and CPD, working with other agencies to integrate C&Cs in both events, will verify and validate tactical and coalition networks in order to assess how well C&Cs are able to perform as intended.

To do this, the team is synchronizing efforts involved with taking the exercise overseas for the first time. This requires leveraging multinational coordination and conducting communication efforts with a variety of players. There is also a learning curve for new partners on how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization operates their technology and intelligence.

"We are working with one platform that is so unique, there are five different industry partners that are sharing it and integrating systems onto it," said Rich Dauz, lead integrator for CPD, who has overseen 11 integration efforts for the Army. "This particular platform has to go to multiple areas across the country to test and receive upgrades before we can do our portion of the integration. But it is efforts like these that we must do to make the system of systems engineering work appropriately on all of our platforms."

Blue Flag 18 involves a higher level Joint command, led by the U.S. Air Force, but includes the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, U.S. Special Forces, and coalition partners. Most participants will be simulated in Blue Flag 18 with senior commanders participating live. The JWA 18.1 segment of this event has the team working in a Multinational Partner Environment (MPE). This means U.S. mission command systems will share a common operating picture across U.S. Forces and coalition partners. Shared services include email, chat, chatrooms, orders disseminations, and SharePoint.

"Each of these are actually their own events; they have their own planning networks, their own VALEX timelines, task lists, and threads," said Daniel Ortega, JWA planning lead, CPD. "As compared to the past, we have to follow host nation rules, deal with the eight hour time difference, and ensure we coordinate the correct field service representatives amongst the events in various locations. Then go through the whole event cycle for each."

Although JMC, U.S. Army Europe, and U.S. Air Force Europe are leads for these exercises, CPD quickly put "boots on the ground" at Grafenwoehr Training Area, when a team of logisticians and platform integrators deployed in early February 2018. Their mission is to set up newly acquired facilities to accept equipment being shipped from the U.S. and to begin the work of integrating C&C equipment on tactical vehicles.

This work will set the stage for this unique exercise which is essentially three exercises in one. CPD is confident its team can take on the challenge of integrating vehicles, equipment, and networks, and make them ready for Soldiers to perform the mission and the task at hand for furthering Army Modernization.